Waving Bahrain’s flag and chanting anti-government slogans, protesters from all over the Persian Gulf littoral state are heading toward Pearl Square in Manama, the epicenter of the movement, on Friday, the 12th consecutive day of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain.
The mass rally is held to honor the victims killed in the recent police crackdown. At least seven protesters have been killed during clashes with security forces since the beginning of pro-democracy protests in Bahrain on February 14.
Protesters demand major reform including the election of the prime minister and the creation of a “real” constitutional monarchy.
Many protesters, mainly Shias, have also called for an end to the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty which has ruled the country for almost two centuries.
While Shias represent nearly 75 percent of the Bahraini population, the country has been ruled by a Sunni royal family since the 18th Century.
Protesters have vowed to remain camped out in Pearl Square and have refused to enter talks with the Crown Prince until their demands are met.
In an attempt to contain massive pro-democracy demonstrations, Bahraini authorities on Wednesday released 23 political prisoners after a pardon by King Hamad. Authorities have also announced a minor cabinet reshuffle.
The Friday’s mass rally came after Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid a short visit to Bahrain, reaffirming Washington’s commitment to embattled King Hamad.
Bahrain is a key US ally in the Middle East and home to Washington’s Fifth Fleet.
The government declared Friday a day of mourning for the seven people killed in clashes since Feb. 14.
A Shi’ite Leader flew home to Bahrain from exile on Saturday to join an opposition movement demanding that the island kingdom’s Sunni ruling family accept a more democratic system.
“We want a real constitution,” Hassan Mushaimaa told reporters at the airport. “They’ve promised us (one) before and then did whatever they wanted to.”
“I’m here to see what are the demands of the people at the square and sit with them and talk to them,” he said, referring to anti-government protesters camped in Manama’s Pearl Square.
Thousands of anti-government protesters marched from Pearl Square to a former office of Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa on Saturday in a new tactic to press demands for the removal of a man who has held his post for 40 years.
Sheikh Khalifa, the king’s uncle, is a symbol of the ruling family’s political power and wealth.
The march was the protesters’ first foray into a government and commercial district of Manama. They halted at a compound that also houses the Foreign Ministry. Many waved Bahraini flags and chanted: “The people want the fall of the regime.”
Mushaimaa, London-based leader of the Shi’ite Haq movement, had been on trial in his absence over an alleged coup plot.
The other defendants in the case were freed in Bahrain this week and the Gulf Arab state’s foreign minister said Mushaimaa had received a royal pardon and could return home unhindered.
Letting Mushaimaa back was the latest in a series of concessions by the ruling al-Khalifa family aimed at placating Bahrain’s majority Shi’ites who have been at the forefront of nearly two weeks of protests demanding more say in government.
Tens of thousands had thronged the streets of Manama on Friday, declared a day of mourning by the government, in one of the biggest demonstrations since a “Day of Rage” on February 14.
Security forces did not interfere. Last week seven people were killed and hundreds wounded in unrest before Bahraini rulers, under pressure from their Western allies, pledged to allow peaceful protests and offered dialogue with opponents.
This week the government released more than 300 people detained since a crackdown on Shi’ite unrest in August.
SOP TO OPPOSITION
Government officials said the cabinet had been reshuffled in what was seen as another sop to the opposition.
According to informed sources by uprising demonstration in Bahrain, the King dismissed 4 ministers.
The four Bahraini ministers are as follows:
Minister of Cabinet Affairs: Sheikh Ahmed bin Attiya al-Khalifa, Minister of Development and Housing: Sheikh Ibrahim bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Minister of Health: Faisal Al Hamar, Minister of Electricity and Water Affairs: Fahmi Al Jowder.